Look, what I’m about to tell you about The Lion King probably isn’t going to carry much weight. You love it. You—and millions of others—already have for years. But I can tell you that this touring company, in town for the final collaboration between Dallas Summer Musicals and the State Fair of Texas, upholds the breathtaking tradition of the original Disney juggernaut. It is, simply put, gorgeous to behold.
Eleven years ago, when I first saw The Lion King in London, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The puppets were innovative, but I felt then that the story dragged. At nearly three hours long, the musical places an ambitious demand on the attention span of its young core audience. Yet Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, who wrote the stage show’s book, have sprinkled in enough adult innuendos and clever allusions (the plot borrows heavily from Hamlet, among other famous works) to keep all ages engaged.
The performers, especially Andrew Gorell as the uptight bird servant Zazu and Patrick R. Brown as the languorously evil Scar, bring a freshness to their interpretations. Yes, they sound heavily like their cartoon counterparts, but this is not a show that strives to reinvent the wheel. Until it comes to the design aspect, that is.
I had forgotten how truly lovely Donald Holder’s lighting design could be. Whether skipping over the undulating illusions of the African savannah or casting sinister shadows in the elephant graveyard, the mood shifts instantly and perfectly. Richard Hudson’s scenic design relies heavily on scrims and the performers themselves, who sinuously become grass, water, and tropical flowers thanks to Julie Taymor’s inventive costumes. Clever staging and the use of wires toy with our senses of space and perception, helping to create some of the more action-packed sequences.
Having it all set to Elton John and Tim Rice’s award-winning score doesn’t hurt, either. If you find yourself humming—or outright singing—along to “Hakuna Matata” or “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” you’ll be in good company. Part of the joy of The Lion King is its inclusive atmosphere. When Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s groundbreaking puppets begin gliding down the aisles during the famous opening number (sung gloriously by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as Rafiki), creating a menagerie of exotic creatures rendered in fabric, pulleys, and stilts, we are all children again.